Mark Bradley: It’s March, and all college hoops are mostly madness | Zag Sports


Almost everything we came to believe about college basketball turned out to be wrong. We remember the 2015 Final Four. Kentucky, then 38-0, lost in the semifinals to Wisconsin, which lost to Duke in the title game. These Blue Devils started three freshmen, like Kentucky in 2012 when the Wildcats won the title.

That was the formula: sign the best recruiting class in the country and win it all. John Calipari has led his Big Blue to four Final Fours in five years. Mike Krzyzewski, bowing to reality, adopted the same pattern. Duke or Kentucky would surely be crowned champions every season from now until eternity.

Neither Duke nor Kentucky, each coached by a Hall of Famer, has reached a Final Four since. Duke had Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Marvin Bagley – all top three picks in their respective drafts. Kentucky had eight lottery picks during the same period. But no Final Fours for any of these luminaries.

The last five NCAA champions — there wasn’t one in 2020 — have started a total of two freshmen. One – Kihei Clark of Virginia 2019 – is still in college. The other was Jalen Brunson from Villanova 2016.

Of Kentucky’s seven leading scorers this season, one is a freshman. Five are transfers, including Sahvir Wheeler from Georgia. Duke lists two freshmen among its top six. The unique thing is widely done. None of the last six NBA No. 1 picks have graced a Final Four. Two — LSU’s Ben Simmons and Washington’s Markelle Fultz — missed the NCAA Tournament. If there had been a big dance in 2021, Anthony Edwards would not have participated. His Georgia Bulldogs were 16-16 on March 12, the day COVID-19 shut down the sport.

Baylor is the defending national champion. Of his top eight players last season, four were transfers. Auburn is ranked No. 5 and won a share of the SEC regular season title. Four of his first five are transfers. (Also note: four of his top five — Jabari Smith, KD Johnson, Walker Kessler and Zep Jasper — hail from the great state of Georgia.)

After the 2020-21 season, 1,729 basketball players entered the transfer portal. It depends That’s an average of 4.8 players – practically a starting five – from every Division I program. That’s an increase of 1,000 since 2017. As Georgia coach Tom Crean said in the summer last: “Things are going at lightning speed. You have to kiss her.

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Something likely to happen soon is Georgia firing Crean, who lost a range of players to transfers and was forced to scrounge the same portal for replacements. The incoming Bulldogs weren’t as good as the outgoing Bulldogs. Georgia was 14-12 last season. Friday was 6-24.

Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner has said time and time again that the key to his program is to grow old and stay old. By Pastner’s fifth season, the Yellow Jackets were old enough to win the ACC Tournament. Minus Moses Wright and Jose Alvarado, Tech entered Saturday’s game with Boston College tied for last in the 15-team ACC.

Duke went 13-11 last season, its worst record since 1994-95. Kentucky went 9-16, its worst record since 1926-27. North Carolina went 14-18 two seasons ago. UCLA was 17-16 three years ago. Indiana has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2016. Each of these programs has won at least five national titles. Together they won 35.

The gold standard in college hoops is Gonzaga, who has been ranked No. 1 in five of the past six seasons. The time had come, the Zags won without a name. Not anymore. They’ve had four lottery picks since 2016. They landed the top rookie of the 2021 class in Chet Holmgren. They played for the national title in 2017 and again last year.

The lesson here is that there are no lessons. Fourteen of the schools ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 this week did not win a national title. The ill-fated NCAA did next to nothing with the Feds’ findings about the shoemakers’ money. The transfer portal has become a bigger deal than recruiting. The one-and-dones does not guarantee anything.

Roy Williams retired after last season. Krzyzewski comes out after this one. He’s the greatest coach since John Wooden – we can argue he’s the best, including Wooden – but he’s gone five full seasons without reaching a Final Four. Since Krzyzewski arrived at Durham in 1980, his Devils have never spent six seasons with a Final Four. Coaching college basketball, never easy, now borders on the impossible.

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